When a loved one passes away, those left behind have to manage their estate. Ensuring creditors get paid and assets are appropriately distributed is rarely at the top of anyone’s wish list as they process their grief. But taking care of your loved one’s estate can allow you to help honor their final wishes and carry their legacy forward. So, how does probate court work in Houston? With some exceptions, the probate process in Houston follows a typical path:
- Establish an administrator;
- Prove will validity if one exists;
- Satisfy estate creditors;
- Determine heirs if there is no valid will; and
- Distribute assets.
At Robbins Estate Law, our experienced probate lawyers have helped many clients through probate court. Losing a loved one is never easy. A compassionate, knowledgeable attorney by your side can make administering your loved one’s estate as painless as possible. We understand that estates are about more than money. They are about your family, and we are passionate about helping you ensure your loved one’s final wishes are honored.
Establish an Administrator
Regardless of whether your loved one left a will, their estate needs someone to administer it. When there is a will, the deceased usually names an executor to administer the estate. That person typically begins the probate process with the court. Unless the court concludes the executor cannot or should not serve, it usually appoints the executor to administer the estate.
Those with an interest in the estate, meaning those who were left part of the estate under the will or those who would take if the will were invalid, may challenge the executor’s appointment. The executor can also be removed for misbehavior.
If the court names someone other than the person designated as executor in the will, that person is known as an administrator. When the deceased did not leave a will, a relative begins the administration by bringing proof of death to the court. The court must then appoint an administrator to manage the estate.
Prove Will’s Validity
After appointing the executor or administrator, the individual brings any wills to the court to establish validity. Then, people may contest the will. Typical will challenges include:
- Improper will execution,
- Undue influence, and
- Lack of testamentary capacity.
If the challengers prove the will is invalid, the court may declare no valid will exists. Alternatively, the parties may probate a different will.
Administer the Estate
In Texas, estates can be administered dependently or independently. The will can appoint an independent executor. Alternatively, all beneficiaries or heirs can agree to an independent administration. The estate is subject to dependent administration if the beneficiaries or heirs cannot agree on independent administration, where the court must approve the executor or administrator’s actions before they are taken. If the beneficiaries or heirs trust the executor or administrator, independent administration can be a useful way to cut down on time and costs.
Collect and Inventory Assets
The executor or administrator begins by collecting and inventorying the deceased’s assets and debts. Even independent administrators must usually provide the court with an inventory of estate assets. Independent administrators are then given free rein to manage the estate within the confines of the will and the law.
Pay Estate Creditors and Taxes
Once the assets and debts are accounted for, the administrator pays any estate taxes and pays off any debts the deceased owed. Some assets may be shielded from creditors. Creditors also cannot collect from beneficiaries or heirs, even if the available estate does not satisfy the deceased’s outstanding debts.
If There Is No Valid Will, Determine the Heirs
When the deceased did not leave a will, their assets are distributed according to Texas laws of intestacy, which establish priority for property distribution. Surviving spouses and children are favored. If the deceased has no surviving spouse and no descendants, their parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins may have claims before the estate passes to the state.
Finally, the administrator must distribute the estate. When there is a will, they must distribute the estate by its terms. The administrator distributes the estate under Texas intestacy laws when there is no will.
In some circumstances, estates may be closed outside probate court. For example:
- Muniment of title—possible when the estate only needs to clear a real estate title and you do not need an executor or administrator;
- Small estates—possible when the estate includes only a homestead and up to $50,000 in value;
- Final paycheck—possible when the only asset to be transferred is a paycheck to the surviving spouse; and
- Informal settlement—possible when the estate includes only small personal property.
Typically, these alternative processes are available only for small estates.
Probate Attorneys at Robbins Estate Law
If you have lost a loved one and need help navigating probate court in Houston, reach out to Robbins Estate Law today. Our compassionate attorneys can discuss your unique situation and talk you through what to expect in probate court. We use our years of experience to help our clients protect their families and ensure their loved one’s final wishes are honored after they are gone.